Leaders in Mining – help not harm, hear not hurt

This week, I’m in Perth speaking at the AusIMM International Mining Conference. Being back in WA has given me an opportunity to reflect on my time in mining here and what I learnt from those experiences. And the thing that keeps coming up for me is that, in the teams I worked, we wanted to be heard by our leaders. 

My mining career started at the ripe young age of 21. I was a young tradie who had just been released from a burns unit after more than a month of healing from a BOOM event. In the burns unit, I remember making the decision that I wouldn’t be working as an electrician for any longer than I absolutely had to. That meant I needed to find something else to do with my career, and fast.  

So, when the “Employee Representative Role” came up, to represent the workforce in the workplace agreement negotiations, I jumped at it.  

A side note: This blog post will trigger some people in the mining industry. Because it is about workplace agreements, and not unions.  

For whatever reason, I have never ever been part of a union. Not because I didn’t want to, just because I have always ended up on sites that were not unionised, and that were termed something like ‘WPAs’ (aka workplace agreements). Robe River was one of those sites. 

Back to the story. My role in the process was to meet with the trades teams and get their feedback on what they were prepared to negotiate on, and what they weren’t. What conditions they were chasing, and what was not important to them. Then, communicate that to the management team.  

And because I have never been part of a union agreement negotiation, I can’t speak from that experience. I can only speak from the experience that I had, which was really very positive. It was a cool role to be put in at such a young age, and I loved every minute of it. It was my first taste of what it is like dealing with senior leaders in mining involved. Yes, they were tough, but they listened, were open to ideas and open to negotiation… within reason of course. 

It was a lifetime ago, but I still have such positive memories of sitting in the equivalent of the boardroom on that mine site talking with senior leaders about the conditions for all the trades teams. And I remember constructive conversation. Not arguing or shouting. It was a calm process that required giving a bit and getting a bit.  

There were other representatives, from other sections of the mine, like operations, and technical. Overall, it was a predominantly positive experience (some of the tradies gave me a hard time about not getting us enough money – to be expected), but the leaders were great to deal with. We always felt heard. We were left feeling that the WPA was helping us, not hindering us (and I must say that I could never understand how people could whinge about working in mining, when our conditions and pay were so good – even back then). 

Looking back on that particular experience, it has left a lasting impact on how I approach some of the coaching sessions that I do now with leaders. Regardless of the situation, team members just want to be heard. They want to be helped. It’s not just about productivity or getting the job done, it’s about psychological safety. Team members that are not heard are hurt. 

Leaders, always remember to help, not harm. Hear, not hurt. Yes, that is not always possible, but let that be your default position! 

Ah, those were the days… 

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About Anton

Anton has dedicated his working life to helping leaders to upgrade their mindset, upskill their leadership, and uplift their teams! With a focus on helps leaders to better lead under pressure. Anton is an entrepreneur, speaker, consultant, bestselling author and founder of The Guinea Group. Over the past 19 years, Anton has worked with over 175+ global organisations, he has inspired workplace leadership, safety, and cultural change. He’s achieved this by combining his corporate expertise, education (Bachelor of HR and Psychology), and infectious energy levels.
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